A dry mouth is one of those things we only notice when we have it.
I know that sounds obvious, but think about it. It’s a hot day, you’re sweating and suddenly you realise I’m thirsty. My mouth’s dry. I need water!
But what about when you experience a dry mouth more than you’d like? There are many reasons this occurs. At the heart of each one is the short supply of a precious and under appreciated resource. Saliva. The technical name for this condition is xerostomia.
Now I realise this isn’t the most exciting topic, even by dentist standards; I get that. However, what if you’re experiencing anxiety about your dry mouth? Some people experience a dry mouth because they’re anxious. Others, because they’re dehydrated, on certain medications, or they mouth breathe.
Whatever the reason, a dry mouth caused by insufficient saliva is worth investigation.
Why is Saliva Important?
Saliva is the body’s antidote to a dry mouth. Good quality, and a healthy quantity, are key to maintaining your oral health. Without the appropriate quantity and quality of saliva, we leave ourselves exposed to potentially serious conditions.
While you may not be aware of it, saliva plays a pivotal role in maintaining the functions that occur in our mouth. In turn, how well it’s able to support these functions has an impact on our overall body and physical health. Saliva, or the lack of it, which is noticeable as a dry mouth, can be an indicator of many issues; some more serious than others.
Here are just a few of the good things saliva does for us, when it’s produced in sufficient quantity and quality. Saliva:
- Fights bacteria. Saliva is a powerful antibacterial agent. It helps to control unhealthy bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.
- Lubricates teeth, gums and soft tissue in the mouth. A protective function, this means it’s much harder for food, bacteria, and other microbes (that cause fungal infections) to stick and cause disease and decay.
- Performs a washing function. Saliva washes our teeth. Long before toothbrushes and toothpaste, this was all people had to rely on. And it also helps reduce the effect of acids on our teeth by diluting them and buffering them.
- Helps with digestion. Helping with the initial breakdown of food when you chew food, saliva plays a vital role in the digestive process.
- Remineralises and hardens teeth affected by diet and bacteria. In a very practical way, saliva plays a preventive role in our oral health. It prevents tooth decay and wear on teeth, which can be affected more quickly if they’re not lubricated with, and protected by, saliva.
- Keeps us healthy. Saliva plays a big role in keeping us healthy.
Incredible really that saliva does all these things! And most of us don’t even give it a second thought.
What’s saliva got to do with a dry mouth?
No discussion about saliva and a dry mouth would be complete without explaining the significance of saliva quality and quantity.
In terms of quality, we want our saliva to be of a runny, watery consistency, i.e. not frothy or claggy. In this state, your saliva cannot be as effective in its functions. You’ll also experience symptoms of a dry mouth.
When talking about the quantity of saliva, in general dentists work on the premise of the more saliva you have, the better.
Typically, a good quantity and quality of saliva equates to good oral health. The reverse is also true. Low quality and supply of saliva puts you at higher risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
In simple terms, if you have a dry mouth, your oral health is at risk.
The dry mouth checklist – How to prevent a dry mouth (and ensure you have enough quality saliva)
Fortunately, there are a few principles for remedying a dry mouth. While maintaining good oral health might be obvious, here are some practical steps you can take if dry mouth is a problem for you:
- 1. Stay well hydrated – Many of us are simply dehydrated, a situation that can be addressed by simply drinking more water. Rather than guzzling a glass at a time, sip consistently instead. This makes it easier for your body to retain the water you consume. More water equals less dry mouth.
- 2. Rinse your mouth with water – If you do this before you swallow the water, it acts as an artificial saliva. The bonus? It stimulates saliva production.
- 3. Get informed – Medications, including some natural remedies, can really affect saliva production and quality. If you’ve been prescribed medication, and feel it’s leaving you with a dry mouth, speak to your doctor or dentist. Increased water intake can help, however, it may also be helpful to use a gel or spray designed for this purpose. Those patients who are receiving chemotherapy treatment should also be aware this dries the mouth out. These patients may benefit from a simple home remedy of a spray bottle with a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange juice. I’ve found this works well for managing a dry mouth.
- 4. Try dry mouth products – These are no substitute for your own saliva, however there are products, such as tooth mousse and sprays, which help with lubrication. Speak to your dentist about what might work for you. I usually recommend to patients that they try at least a couple to find one that works for them. This involves some trial and error, but is well worth the effort. Remember, though, these products are just an application. They are not as good as the real thing – your own naturally occurring saliva.
- 5. Avoid recreational drug use – All recreational drugs leave the users with a dry mouth. The simple advice here is: don’t use them if you want to be free from the anxiety of a dry mouth.
- 6. Look at your diet – What we eat has a huge impact on whether we have a dry mouth and good quality saliva. Avoid highly acidic foods, which can overload the mouth. Try limiting your intake of caffeine too. Caffeine in any form (coffee, cola and energy drinks) is a diuretic. As such, it can leave us dehydrated. I recommend always drinking water with coffee or tea for this reason.
- 7. Enjoy more dairy – Cheese lovers will be pleased to know that dairy products like cheese can help with remineralising teeth affected by an insufficient supply of saliva. This is because these products generally contain a protein called casein, which supplies minerals to harden teeth.
- 8. Suck or chew on sugar-free sweets or gum – Certain sweets and gum (that are sugar-free) can be used to stimulate saliva production. Ask your dentist what they’d recommend, but work on the principle that anything you suck or chew on, will generate saliva. Just steer clear of sugar content options.
For most people, a dry mouth is something, which can be addressed by working with your dentist to implement some of the suggestions outlined here. For a smaller group of people, dry mouth is a more serious condition that has a much bigger impact on their health and quality of life. This is a topic for another blog, however, if you’d like to discuss your options, I encourage to make a time to speak with one of our dentists so together we can find ways to help you manage your dry mouth.
Owned by Dr Les Jabbour, Define Dental is located in Benowa. As the Gold Coast’s premier dental practice providing quality dental care to local residents longer than any other, Define Dental has decades of experience of providing exceptional dental care for the local Gold Coast community. The team at Define Dental is experienced at working with patients to treat conditions such as dry mouth, so if this is something concerning you, why not book an appointment to discuss your options?